As recently as a couple of years ago, Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly would get to two strikes on a hitter and immediately think to go to his change-up, not his curveball. The fourth inning on Thursday night showed how much his curveball has developed – and how much faith he has developed in it.

After the Brewers’ Christian Yelich led off with a single to center, Kelly struck out Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas and Ryan Braun, getting each of them swinging on curveballs. It was Kelly’s most dominant sequence in what was an impressive outing in which he gave up just one run in seven innings.

The eight swinging strikes he elicited with his curveball on Thursday tied his season-high. Kelly said the pitch took a jump forward during the 2017 season, the third of four years he spent in the Korean Baseball Organization, the top professional league in South Korea.

He said he transitioned from throwing mostly sinkers during his time in the Tampa Bay Rays system to throwing mostly four-seam fastballs in Korea. At the same time, he started going to his curveball more because it pairs better with four-seamers.

As a result, the curveball went from something he used sparingly to a pitch he used often. He soon realized the pitch could elicit swings and misses.

“(Before that,) it was never a dagger,” Kelly said. “Now, as it’s progressed, there are situations – like last night, there were a couple of times that, in my head, once I got to two strikes, it was, ‘All right, let’s throw a curveball.’ Before that wasn’t the option in my head.”

Kelly said he hasn’t changed the grip or the way he throws the pitch, but he believes that the more he has thrown it the sharper it has become. That said, he still thinks there’s room for improvement.

“Last night, I did a pretty good job with it,” he said. “Overall, sometimes when I get in trouble with it, I get to two strikes and I have trouble bouncing it and getting it below the zone. A couple of times this year, I’ve got beat with it with two strikes when I’ve left it in the zone.”

Gilbert resident Zach Davies gets the W

In 2004, Richie Sexson hit the longest home run Chase Field? — then known as Bank One Ballpark? — had ever seen when he crushed a 503-footer off the video screen, leaving a patch of dead panels in a 20-foot projection of his face. Out in Gilbert, an 11-year-old Zach Davies was watching.

Fifteen years later, Davies would take the mound as the starter in that same stadium where he grew up watching baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers pitcher picked up the ‘W’ on Thursday night, holding the Diamondbacks to five hits and just one run in his second career start at Chase Field.

Davies went to Mesquite High School in Gilbert, where he still lives during the offseason. Originally from Seattle, he was a Mariners fan who spent his childhood watching Diamondbacks games.

“I remember being here when (Brewers manager Craig) Counsell won the World Series with the Diamondbacks,” Davies said. “…Just the days of (Curt) Schilling and Randy Johnson, especially because he was from Seattle, as well.”

The pitcher originally committed to Arizona State to play baseball but ended up forgoing college when the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 2011 draft. 

“Being close to home, being in Tempe, and (playing for that) baseball program … was something that I was looking forward to,” Davies said. “I ended up getting an opportunity in my eyes and signed to play professional ball, but I was looking forward to playing here in the Valley.”

Even having moved across the country, Davies is still connected to Arizona State baseball. Pat Murphy, who served as the head coach at ASU from from 1995 to 2009, originally recruited Davies to Arizona State. Now, Murphy is the bench coach for the Brewers.

Duplantier optioned

In his third minor league rehab start, right-hander Jon Duplantier threw three scoreless innings on Thursday night for High-A Visalia, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out three.

After the outing, the Diamondbacks reinstated him from the injured list – he had been out with shoulder tightness – and optioned him to Triple-A Reno.

Manager Torey Lovullo said the club wants Duplantier to continue to get stretched out as a starter in Reno but didn’t rule out the possibility he returns to the majors should a need arise in the bullpen.

“What was explained to him is that whatever is going to happen that this team needs, to make sure he’s the guy and that he’s ready to go,” Lovullo said. “Make every attempt to go out there and do what you need to do every fifth day.”

Duplantier, who entered the year as the club’s top pitching prospect, threw well in the majors as a reliever but went through some uneven outings in the rotation. He landed on the injured list after a start on June 11 in Philadelphia, after which he admitted he was bothered by shoulder issues.

Short hops

  • To make room for right-hander Taylor Clarke on the roster, the club optioned infielder Domingo Leyba to Reno. Leyba had just six plate appearances during his most recent stint in the majors, which lasted two weeks.
  • Diamondbacks minor league shortstop Teofilo Mendez received a 72-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance. Mendez, 17, was playing in the Dominican Summer League. 

Reach reporter Julia Stumbaugh at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @julia_stumbaugh.

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